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Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass

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"Boat Girl" is the heart-breaking memoir of growing up aboard a sailboat. Throughout the 1980's and 90's, Melanie's family lived aboard a 47-foot sailboat, spending their summers along the US East Coast and their winters in the Bahamas. But the cruising life was not all fun in the sun. The family had to work hard to pay for their way of life. They dodged hurricanes, overzealous federal agents and bullying land-kids. And they endured a boatload of family drama. As her father published articles about how living on a boat brings families together, Melanie secretly struggled with an eating disorder, the alienation of being a boat kid, and confusion over her developing sexuality. As an adult, she lived aboard her own 28-foot sailboat and had several relationships trying to find someone who wasn't intimidated by her stubborn independence and free-spirited lifestyle. "Boat Girl" weaves all this together into a story about a girl who, once all is said and done, simply wants her own boat and her own life. Melanie paints a vivid picture of the trials and tribulations of family life aboard a sailboat without drowning the reader in the technical details of sailing. "Boat Girl" strikes a perfect balance between a coming of age story and a sea tale, enjoyable for boaters and land-lovers alike.

246 pages, Paperback

First published September 29, 2012

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About the author

Melanie Neale

4 books23 followers
Melanie Neale grew up living aboard a 47' sailboat with her parents and her sister. The family traveled the US East Coast and the Bahamas from the mid 1980's to the end of the 1990's, and both daughters were home-schooled until they went to college. Melanie began writing poetry and short stories when she was a young child, and she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Eckerd College in 2002 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University in 2006. She lived aboard her own 28' sailboat while in graduate school in Miami. She has taught college, captained and crewed on boats, detailed boats, worked in a bait shop, worked in marketing, and currently works as the Director of Career Services for a private art college in northern Florida, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Melanie has published fiction, poetry and nonfiction in many literary journals and magazines, including Soundings, Seaworthy, Southwinds, GulfStream, Latitudes & Attitudes, The Miami Herald's Tropical Life Magazine, Balancing the Tides, The Georgetown Review, RumBum.com and Florida Humanities. She is also a recipient of several awards for her writing. Her "Short Story" column appeared bimonthly in Cruising World Magazine from 2006 to 2009. Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass is her first book.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Tania.
1,232 reviews285 followers
September 12, 2014
There were lots of people and lots of places, and none of them felt like home

3.5 stars. I enjoyed this coming of age story. I've never thought about what it would be like growing up on a sailboat, and what I got from this book is that it would be a different experience for each person. Some people choose this lifestyle because it would expose them and their children to more things in life, and some because you could protect yourself and your children much easier from any influences that you were trying to avoid. Melanie's parents (dad) definitely fell into the last category. Although the boating bit of the book was fascinating, for me the best part of the book was watching her grow up. I liked how honest the author was about herself and her life. I could really connect with her as a person, and I walked away from Boat girl feeling like I knew her. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to read a well written book on an alternative lifestyle.
Profile Image for Austin Collins.
Author 3 books28 followers
August 30, 2014
You would not be far off to call Boat Girl a maritime version of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. More accurately, it begins as AYTGIMM and evolves into Forever, another Judy Blume classic, as the narrator leaves the awkwardness of puberty behind and enters the uncertainty of young adulthood.

The comparison fits not just due to the subject matter — a girl coming of age and dealing the all the usual social, body image and self-esteem issues — but also the tone, which is straightforward, conversational and matter-of-fact. This is refreshing; sea stories have a well-deserved reputation for being purple with overwrought verbiage. Boat Girl is a happy exception. I've read way too many sailing books that oversell the virtues and joys of life on the water. Melanie Neale just tells it like it is.

This autobiographical account begins in 1979, literally before the author was born, as her father and pregnant mother travel to oversee the construction of their boat, a Gulfstar 47. It then progresses year by year, as she grows up on the water.

The family divides its time between the U.S. and the Bahamas. Neale's budding ambitions, conflicts with her parents and experimentation with her emerging sexuality amid the aimlessness of the early years of adulthood will be familiar and relatable to almost everyone. Friendships develop and then fade, plans come together and then fall apart. What makes this story crackle is the backdrop of living rootlessly aboard a sailboat, wandering with the seasons and resisting the temptations of a normal life ashore. Kids grow up fast on sailboats, where practical skills, self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of adversity are necessary attributes. Freedom is a kind of religion to liveaboards, and "conventional" is a dirty word.

Neale repeatedly highlights the sexist double standard: women who enjoy themselves are whores; men who enjoy themselves are playful, sporting or at worst rakish. A man with a handful of girlfriends was dashing and jaunty, and his harem was a measure of his success. A woman with an equally active social life was considered tarnished and disreputable (or, as her friend Michelle's church elders put it, "worldly"). And despite the fact that she has her 50-Ton Master's License, she is still underestimated and treated with patronizing condescension in marinas and boatyards. Boat Girl also struck me as a post-colonial allegory for paternalism, even though I seriously doubt that is what Neale ever had in mind. A recurring theme is that she clashed with her conservative father over her rebellious and high-spirited behavior (he calls her a "slut" more than once and expresses concern about how her conduct will reflect upon the family image). Yet he helps to pay for her undergraduate tuition as well as her first sailboat (a Columbia 28). As she recalls on page 173, "Perhaps the underlying message was: now that you have gone to college and are bound for grad school, we feel like you have finally made something of your life and so we'll give you what you've always wanted." It would be hard (and a little illogical) to refuse such generosity, but it means tolerating didactic, judgmental, shaming moralism that one cannot help but internalize.

Neale finds her tribe, but then it dissolves around her as people are pulled in different directions by the obligations that come with maturity. Idealistic dreams are replaced by a crush of daily responsibilities. Life, as they say, happens. Whether intended or not, Boat Girl addresses a fundamental conundrum: you can choose a passion career (such as sailing, writing etc.) or you can choose a lucrative professional path. Unless you are lucky enough to get rich young — or to be born that way — you can either try to make money now and defer your heart's gratification until some unknown point in the future, or you can throw yourself into doing what you really want to do, opting for fulfillment rather than income, subsisting on a shoestring and sacrificing the comfort and security that comes from a tidy bank account balance. For the 99% of us who are not wealthy, it's an agonizing dilemma that never really gets resolved, and always leaves room for worry and regret. It's a subject that the text bumps up against repeatedly.

I connected with this story on a personal level for a couple of reasons. Like Neale, I also have a degree in Creative Writing. She went to school in St. Petersburg, where I live now. I've been to the Annapolis Sailboat Show, and that scene brought back memories. Having lived in Florida my entire life, her description of Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma and their aftermath rang painfully true. I'm sure anyone with any experience with sailing will find this book extremely accessible. Those whose feet are permanently and gladly planted on dry land will still enjoy reading about her reminiscences and struggles, but may be mystified by some aspects of the (admittedly weird) cruising lifestyle.

Ultimately, this is a book about finding your way in life, about self-determination, about making the choices that define your identity and your destiny. You don't have to be a mariner to take pleasure in following Melanie Neale on her journey.
Profile Image for C.
1,213 reviews29 followers
July 1, 2013
My copy is a galley copy.

This was a fairly quick easy read and enjoyable. I loved the first half of the book and it is marvelous in evoking the atmosphere of the Bahamas and South Florida. It felt like a vicarious vacation (well, except for cleaning conch shells).

This would be a great mid-winter read. Especially when snowed in...

The second half, I was not so enamored with. It was good, but darker, covering her adolescence - teen issues, school, parental conflict, friendships and plans changing, love, and boat living as a young adult. While it had an element of education and interest to it, it was not quite as engaging. I appreciated her observations about closure and peace with family conflict and her awkward relationship with one of her parents.

This also lent some insight to my behavior growing up:
"Part of it was a feminist streak and the other part of it was the ultimate in antifeminism: a deeply rooted need in me to be accepted by my dad and by other men. If I could do the same things as them, I would be accepted into their world."

I read it and thought "ohhhh...yeah...good point!"

It's also a bummer that her Captains license didn't evolve into something more for her. Hopefully her book will be successful and pay off the school loans & such.

There's a few formatting issues in the digital edition - odd paragraph breaks and "Melanie Neale" tossed into odd spots. A singing woman whose "Adam's apple pulsed" could use a reword as "throat" as, while women do have Adam's apples, that popped out at me as strange and distracted me in the moment.

I would have loved to see more pictures scattered within the text. Even in black and white. She did great at bringing the boats to life, but for those of us who are woefully ignorant about them, it could have given a little more context.

I should also mention there is a version of this called "Boat Kid" pared down for younger readers that I think would be fantastic, as it excludes her college years and adulthood and keeps it all relatively pared down.

Edited to add: I love that the initial book comments are from people she talked about in the books - Tim Murphy, Professor Wakefield, etc.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
December 13, 2013
When I saw this book on NetGalley (where I did get a copy of this in exchange for an honest review), I was interested in it for a number of reasons. Number one, I've been participating in an Around the World reading challenge, and it is hard to find books set in the Bahamas beyond crime novels. Number two, I didn't know there were kids raised on sailboats, and found that concept pretty intriguing.

Melanie Neale spent almost all of her childhood on a sailboat with her family, and this is an account of that time. The chapters are very brief, touching on a highlight or two from each year or each location. Melanie started living on a boat at a very young age. Most of her family's time is spent in the Bahamas, but they also spend time in Newport, various ports in Florida and North Carolina, and a few other islands. Weather, pirates, and the drug trade are mentioned in the stories she tells of what happened to her family.

As she ages in the book, so do her challenges. Her father is very concerned with appearances and does not handle her development into a teenager very well. She also struggles to maintain relationships with friends she may only encounter 1-2 times a year, or with boys who are landlocked and can only write letters that she will only see when they check in with their post office box. It is an inside view of an intriguing and isolated lifestyle, and had some similarities to my upbringing in the country where we'd "go to town" once a week in the summers. It felt like a pretty honest look, including details about drudgeries such as the constant diet of less perishable food and the challenge of laundry and homeschooling.
Profile Image for Lola.
9 reviews
October 2, 2012
Loved this memoir - you get a real sense of growing up in a sailor's lifestyle - something most people only dream of - but from the perspective of the kids taken along for the ride. Great insight to family relationships and coming of age in a wholly unusual motif.
Profile Image for Laureen Hudson.
69 reviews15 followers
October 14, 2017
I devoured this book in two sittings, the whole time with my heart in my throat.

I read this through the lens of being a parent of a girlchild who was born on a sailboat and has never lived on land. I read this through the lens of being a family on a boat, which is the weirdest mix of totally public and totally private. I read this wondering what my kids would think when I write about our voyages, and I read this wondering what my kids would write about those same voyages.

I also read this critically, as a fellow editor. For some reason, I could not shut off that part of my brain, as I usually do when I'm engaged in pleasure reading. I'm absolutely in awe of the balancing act Melanie pulled off here; boat writing does not happen in a vacuum, but within the context of a very small, very tight community, often filled with frenemies. Everything you say is going to be judged by someone who was there, knows someone who was there, or sailed on a boat like that once and is going to tell you you got it wrong. But by taking her writing right down to the grit, Melanie managed to write something incontrovertible and ringing with truth. It's *her* story, sometimes almost harshly so, and as such cannot be challenged, except by someone who would then have to present their truth as well. It's a brilliant way of going about it.

It takes some tremendous strength to out yourself through your growing, formative, challenging years. It takes some serious guts to announce to the world that you have daddy issues, and here are the events that cemented them. It's even harder when the whole world knows who your parents are and read the book they wrote about your life. In order for your truth to surface, you have to first break through a vast layer of willful misconception. I'm in awe of the subtexts here.

The thing that kept me smiling through the whole book, though, was the fact that although she questioned her parents, her family, her place in the world, her body, her purpose... she never once ever questioned her rightful place as the "boat girl." There's an unshakeable confidence there that I found joyful, and relatable. Even though relationships with people can be troubling, there's always the sea, and that's always going to be home.
Profile Image for Keith Gouveia.
Author 37 books12 followers
June 11, 2013
I had the pleasure of meeting Melanie at a book signing, and since I didn't grow up abroad, nor was I a young girl, I really had no desire to read this book. However, Melanie was so approachable, so down to earth, I had to buy her book. Since I had read Beating Windward Press' other titles and highly enjoyed them, I thought "what the hell" and cracked the spine. I am so glad I did. The story was highly enjoyable, well written, and casual, and after reading it I feel as though I have a new best friend. I've been to the Bahamas and originally grew up in Massachusetts, so I recognized some of the destinations and locals, and that gave me a connection to the author and the book I didn't expect.

Take this from a genre geek and pick up this book and broaden your horizons, anything published by Beating Windward Press deserves to be read by everyone.
Profile Image for Susan.
692 reviews5 followers
August 13, 2019
A well-written book, quite open and honest about her relationship with her parents, her father especially. I have friends and relatives who are passionate about sailing so it was interesting to me to read about someone who actually lived the life full-time. I found the author on Facebook and wish she would add an update to her story at the end of the book because it looks like things have changed from the way she left it.
August 16, 2020
I honestly didn't expect to read this all the way through, but Melanie Neale's writing kept my interest and it'll probably be one of the more memorable books I've read. Anyone who's spent time in sailboats, south Florida or the Bahamas will relate to her vivid descriptions...you can almost smell the mangroves! Melanie has a direct, honest way of describing relationships and situations. I'd love to see a sequel!
2 reviews
June 7, 2023
I love historical events like this.
Boats and historical events are what make me love reading. Could you please share the sequel books of your series?

In fact, even though I started reading very late, I'm getting more and more immersed every day.

It is a great chance to read the books of important authors. I know that. I'm looking forward to your new books.

I am writing the importance of reading a book here for friends who want to read this book. I hope it will benefit sellers and customers...

Are the top 10 benefits of reading for all ages:

1. Reading Exercises the Brain

While reading, we have to remember different characters and settings that belong to a given story. Even if you enjoy reading a book in one sitting, you have to remember the details throughout the time you take to read the book. Therefore, reading is a workout for your brain that improves memory function.

2. Reading is a Form of (free) Entertainment

Did you know that most of the popular TV shows and movies are based on books? So why not indulge in the original form of entertainment by immersing yourself in reading. Most importantly, it’s free with your Markham Public Library card.

3. Reading Improves Concentration and the Ability to Focus

We can all agree that reading cannot happen without focus and in order to fully understand the story, we have to concentrate on each page that we read. In a world where gadgets are only getting faster and shortening our attention span, we need to constantly practice concentration and focus. Reading is one of the few activities that requires your undivided attention, therefore, improving your ability to concentrate.

4. Reading Improves Literacy

Have you ever read a book where you came across an unfamiliar word? Books have the power to improve your vocabulary by introducing you to new words. The more you read, the more your vocabulary grows, along with your ability to effectively communicate. Additionally, reading improves writing skills by helping the reader understand and learn different writing styles.

5. Reading Improves Sleep

By creating a bedtime routine that includes reading, you can signal to your body that it is time to sleep. Now, more than ever, we rely on increased screen time to get through the day. Therefore, by setting your phone aside and picking up a book, you are telling your brain that it is time to quiet down. Moreover, since reading helps you de-stress, doing so right before bed helps calm your mind and anxiety and improve the quality of sleep.

6. Reading Increases General Knowledge

Books are always filled with fun and interesting facts. Whether you read fiction or non-fictions, books have the ability to provide us with information we would’ve otherwise not known. Reading a variety of topics can make you a more knowledgeable person, in turn improving your conversation skills.

7. Reading is Motivational

By reading books about protagonists who have overcome challenges, we are oftentimes encouraged to do the same. The right book can motivate you to never give up and stay positive, regardless of whether it’s a romance novel or a self-help book.

Profile Image for Brett Bloemendaal.
Author 2 books2 followers
January 9, 2022
I felt compelled to start this book partially because I enjoy unique memoirs but also because of my own careers as a fishing guide and author and the obvious ties to the main setting and plot of this book. I was pleasantly surprised, however, with the deep reflections on the broader meaning of life and what it means to live a happy one...or a "normal one."

The book actually grew on me more as it developed. Surprisingly I felt the slowest parts to be the early chapters describing boat life as a child and her adventures she had along the way. It turns out living on a boat is quite different than fishing out of one during the day, and there were a lot of things I could not relate to. I could also potentially see those not interested in the details of boat life taking a while to get into the book, but I found it more and more worth it along the way as the author continued to provide deep reflections on the broader meaning of life and relationships and offer a unique perspective contrary to the traditional "coming-of-age tale."

It is perhaps a little difficult to attach yourself to some of the characters, and the flow of the book may seem a little piecemeal at times, but I don't find this a function of the writing as much as a function of the life lived that drives the story. I would imagine this was much the way she felt as she made her way through the world, and the essence of a great memoir is to make the reader feel the way the author felt in the moment. That said, I felt that the introspection was just the right touch to blend with the action and adventure so as not to make the book seem over written or self-indulgent.

If fractional ratings were a thing, I would probably rate it a 4.4 and would definitely recommend for boating enthusiasts but even for someone who may have never stepped foot on a sea vessel.
Profile Image for Courtney.
Author 2 books9 followers
February 10, 2018
I really liked this book. The excerpt led me to believe it would be heavily dramatic and negative (which I don't like), but it wasn't at all. It was very good. I highly recommend it to people interested in reading about alternate lifestyles or are particularly interested in boats. 👍
April 15, 2023
It was really good.

At first I found it a bit boring and hard to read, but as I got on, it was enjoyable, and also a nice easy read.
Profile Image for Valerie.
376 reviews5 followers
December 19, 2014
Received a copy from NetGalley.
I was drawn to Boat Girl when I saw that it was available because I'm drawn to all things sailing, for a start. Much of it I read aloud on road trips with my husband, but I read the last third or so on my own in the interest of finishing for review.
Boat Girl is a very interesting read, and I enjoyed being immersed in the author's unique childhood and growing up as she lived her life on sailboats, experiencing a flow of annual rhythms and gypsy wanderings most of us miss out on.
I could relate to the boatish bits; the call of the wind, the delight in the silence and magic of being under sail, but also the realities of mildew, of boat maintenance, of dangers. Sailing is a passion my husband and I enjoy on a much smaller scale, in our home waters of the Puget Sound.
I could also relate to the teen worries, thinking of how my students navigate the tricky waters of adolescence (yes, I know it's a pun, but it fits fine) and how they come out the other side. Neale struggled with with bulimia, and with her parents' harsh judgments of her behaviors as a young teen; she is frank about the effects on her, and on the ways she got through difficult periods in her life. She is unapologetic about her choices, yet still avoids laying blame solely on others for the bad stuff, which is refreshing. It occurs to me that I've read very little memoir geared toward teens, but I feel that this book would have wide appeal. I gave it three stars simply because I've nothing much to compare it to. I enjoyed a glimpse into a growing up which seemed very different from my own, but with similarities that reminded me of how much the same we are, on the inside.
I'm excited to offer the middle grade version of Neale's story, How I survived swimming with Sharks, being Homeschooled, and growing Up on a Sailboat to my students (due to mature content, Boat Girl falls firmly in the YA category), and I'll be interested to hear what they have to say. A couple of them are sailors, so it's bound to give us another touch point for conversation.
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Profile Image for Kate.
Author 27 books44 followers
March 4, 2013
A fascinating account of Melanie Neale’s childhood and adolesence growing up on the family boat Chez Nous with her parents and younger sister. In the winters they head off for the Bahamas and summers they return to the east coast of the United States. Melanie’s parents have always been unconventional and wish to broaden the horizons of their children. Melanie and her sister are home-schooled and as children get shunned by small-town America for their unconventional lifestyle. Learning the lore of boat-life, Melanie makes life-long ‘liveaboard’ friends. At the age of eleven, she goes diving with her father and other men and has adventures with reef sharks and other formidable creatures. We share her growing pains as she turns from a child into a teenager and has various pubescent relationships. We feel her pain and confusion as she comes up against her father’s attitude as she becomes sexually active. The hypocrisy and double-standards she has to endure as a girl, hit her hard. Meanwhile, she and her friend, Michelle, have a dream to buy a boat and go sailing together when they are old enough and they save up to make this dream a reality. By the age of eighteen, Melanie is doing a correspondence course in boat design. She also gets her captain’s license and now has options and money in the bank. She and Michelle have saved enough for a boat but Michelle drops a bombshell – she’s going to get a boat with her new boyfriend. Not one to be perturbed, Melanie goes to college to study International Business and decides to major in creative writing. At the age of twenty-two she buys herself a boat Short Story and survives extreme weather conditions and hurricanes. She’s ‘chosen to be that girl who’s a little tougher than most guys’ after all. Boats are so much more than fibreglass when you’ve lived and breathed them and cared for them as Melanie has – they are her skin. The vivid imagery of reefs and conches and the passion with which Melanie describes her life as a ‘liveaboard’ will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Jean Li.
83 reviews56 followers
November 8, 2013
My full review here: http://viktoriajean.com/2013/11/08/bo...

Melanie Neale's memoir evokes a scenic memory of the Bahamas and Florida - an elusive beginning to a heartbreaking story of growing-up and falling apart in more ways than one.

Each memory from her growing up years are detailed with the dates and year, giving us a complete picture of family whose lives revolved around living in a confined 47-foot sailboat cruising between the US East Coast and the Bahamas. The rocky lifestyle shapes the person Melanie gradually became. Her way of thinking, behaving and even eating.

“Part of it was a feminist streak and the other part of it was the ultimate in antifeminism: a deeply rooted need in me to be accepted by my dad and by other men. If I could do the same things as them, I would be accepted into their world.”

The author is a tough cookie who believes that women can rise in a man's world despite the obstacles in her path. Acceptance became a huge part of her psyche and drives her will to make it out there on her own - Melanie's own boat and Melanie's rules.

This is definitely an unusual contemporary memoir that shifts between telling the full story of what actually happened, to what the current Melanie Neale hopes could have happened - a brilliant psychological mapping of a girl who simply wants her own life...with or without the boat. Has the boat become part of her life or has she been simply dictated by it? Definitely insightful if you wish to understand a nomadic life on the rocky seas!
Profile Image for Susan.
802 reviews39 followers
July 11, 2015

When I spotted this book on NetGalley I requested it since my husband and I sail on the Chesapeake Bay. Some of our friends have lived aboard their boats for a period of time, but I don't know anyone who has raised children in a liveaboard situation. So I was intrigued.

This book kept me awake way too late the last couple of nights because I couldn't put it down. The book is written as a series of vignettes, and each chapter is headed with the year and the author's age at the time the events took place. The snapshots are in chronological order, so the reader watches Melanie grow up. She and her sister were home-schooled on the boat, since they spent the winter months in the Bahamas and the summers berthed at a marina in Virginia. She tells us stories about her and her family and about the people they met in the Bahamas, some of whom became good friends they saw year after year.

Other reviewers have pointed out that this is more of a coming of age book than a book about sailing and cruising. Ms. Neale does a stellar job of showing us what sort of people here family are and what their lives were like on the boat. Her stories were emotionally affecting and well written.

This book follows her life through graduate school, but I did notice that there is another edition titled "Boat Kid" which is designed for younger readers that doesn't include her college years after she moved off her parent's boat.

This is a good read, and if you're interested in sailing or just enjoy a good memoir, you'll enjoy it.
Profile Image for Brenda.
521 reviews20 followers
October 8, 2013
I was immediately drawn to Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass by Melanie Neale. This memoir is a series of increasingly connected vignettes, starting when Melanie was very young, which together paint a larger picture of boat life. Melanie and her sister grew up aboard a sailboat, typically summering in Virginia and wintering in the Bahamas. They were homeschooled aboard, supported by the money her father made writing sailing books and articles, diving and meeting all sorts of interesting people. In the summer, sailing families congregated in Cape Town, where she met kids who would become her best friends - the only other people who truly understood her. Her family's story is almost like an expat story, even though they were often surrounded by other Americans.

I'm not a boat girl on a caliber with the Neales, but I felt personally connected to this memoir. Melanie and I are the same age, and the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area was one of her "home ports." As an adult, she attended grad school at FIU and lived on her own sailboat at a marina in the suburb where I lived as a child. Her recollections brought back many of my own memories of boating and oceangoing. I could practically feel the salty breeze on my face. Those experiences never leave you, even if you've never lived full-time on a boat.
Profile Image for Jaylia3.
752 reviews132 followers
October 4, 2013
Getting a glimpse of a world I haven’t experienced is one of my greatest reading pleasures, and Melanie Neale writes with such beautiful, immersive language in this memoir of growing up as a “boat kid”, that it entranced me and gave me the liberating sensation that I was living it all myself, from the confined spaces of the cabin to the wide open vastness of the sea and sky. For her entire childhood, Melanie and her family lived on a 47 foot sailboat cruising between the Bahamas and the US East Coast. Through her I vicariously experienced swimming for fish in backwater bays, waking during a storm at sea when a wave of salt water sloshed over my bed, finding bullet holes on an isolated island abandoned by drug runners, and meeting geriatric nudists, one facet of the nomadic tribe that makes up small boat culture. Because of her family’s lifestyle Melanie became much more self sufficient than most land kids her age, able to dive for dinner and help repair a boat engine. She still had to cope with teenage image and identity issues and the big question of the book is what kind of life she will choose, boat or land, once she finishes her home school studies and has to make a decision about her future. Her father is pushing for college, but Melanie and a friend have been saving up to buy their own boat . . .
16 reviews
July 27, 2014
I came across this book while researching about living life aboard a sailboat.

This memoir is separated into three books.

The first book and half of the second are about her childhood + teen years living full time aboard with her family on their sailboat. I very much so enjoyed that portion.

The rest of the second half and the third book are about her young adult + adult years. Living on her own (land and boat living), getting a job, going through relationships, where she is now, etc. While I did enjoy the last chapter that explains where she is now, the rest of it didn't appeal to me. I bought the book to read about her childhood experiences, but I was disappointed to read what was more like a memior of her whole entire life. If you are interested in reading this book for the same reason I was, you will definitely enjoy the first half of this book.

All in all, what you will get with this book is an honest tale of the author's life. There are plenty of stretched details, many honest thoughts of hers, a lot of boat lingo, harsh conversations and remarks from her father, and a multitude of spelling/grammar mistakes, but that's what makes this book real. It's honest and what you see is what you get.

I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed hearing what life is like aboard from a child's perspective, so I rate this book a 4/5.
Profile Image for Martina Clark.
Author 2 books14 followers
April 19, 2014
Having spent some time crewing on sailboats in my own misspent young, I picked up the memoir Boat Girl because it looked fun. I kept reading because the story drew me in. I couldn’t put it down because it was just that good. Starting from when she was still in her mother’s belly, Ms. Neale tells us the story of how she and a sailboat were born – or perhaps built? – at the same time and grew up together. She spent the first 19 years of her life living aboard her parent’s sailboat Chez Nous along with her sister as they cruised the East Coast of the US, the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean. Sailing is in her bones and even as her life evolved when she reached adulthood, her spirit is still clearly tied to her life on the water. We get a rare insiders glimpse at life aboard a sailboat from the perspective of a child. Homeschooled and with a very different socialization than most American kids, Ms. Neale and her sister find other ways to make friends and form relationships. If you’ve ever considered taking your family cruising on a sailboat, or even going by yourself, or simply want to escape a landlocked life and adventure through the high seas for a few hundred pages, this book is the ticket. Beautifully written and heartfelt, it’s all about the journey.
Profile Image for Tina Bell.
7 reviews
March 2, 2013
This book, for those (like me) with zero-knowledge of the boating world, boating life, boat people....is both educational and thrilling. It provides a look into a world I would never have willingly glimpsed into (if not prompted to by the author, who I happen to know!)....but I am so very glad I did. I encourage those of you who do not know one end of a boat from the other (literally), to pick it up, enjoy the gentle meander through years and oceans, people and places. Melanie Neale presents this life in a frank, no-nonsense and often-humorous way, and many of the families struggles occur just as similarly to those of us on dry-land. The book forces you to discard some conservative notions, which is never a bad thing, and to picture a life that really happened. I spent much of my childhood in knee-high sox and a plaid uniform, and a little later, Melanie was spending hers diving for conch to make fritters with and braving hurricane force winds, being home-schooled and living her life with her family in the confines of 47 feet of space. It's a remarkable journey, beautifully and truthfully written, and well worth reading.
Profile Image for Tina Dreffin.
Author 4 books14 followers
September 16, 2016
"Boat Girl" is a must read for any teenager or parent interested in knowing the intricacies of life lived aboard a sailboat with helicopter parents. Melanie struggles to win the favor of her father who seems more intent on her fitting into society than connecting with her as a daughter on a genuine level. Since there isn't a society in the islands where Melanie is reared, the reader is left wondering what her father is thinking.

Melanie's struggles mirror that of all young teenage girls when faced with fitting in with kids: weight, companionship, intimacy, and activity. Never once is the telling of her story sad or depressing. Instead, it is uplifting and inspirational. Her strength evolves in coping with a distant father and a mother who is disconnected from the difficulties a girl faces when living aboard a boat.

The author emerges as a remarkable woman and as an activist for female issues after having endured the best and the worst of island living on the high seas.
Profile Image for Virginia.
1,466 reviews4 followers
August 30, 2014
While I am not a boat person I grew up in Florida and this book makes me see the ocean and smell the salt air. One reviewer said it felt like a group of short stories but to me this approach added to the book. As you grow up you change and life feels like a succession of short stories. Everyone should have their stories for it makes life richer. Boat Girl is a great story of living on boats but it is also a great story of a child growing to a woman. I have not enjoyed a boat book as much since reading Robb White's books. Neale has the same laid back feel to her writing...I loved it.

I have been using the goodreads book giveaways as a source for new authors. I had almost decided to stop because while I got several I really liked, I got a couple I HATED...But reading a few I hate is worth finding a book I liked as much as this one.
Profile Image for Mairita (Marii grāmatplaukts).
521 reviews168 followers
July 12, 2013
Ideāla grāmata tiem, kas kādreiz domā: kā tas ir - pastāvīgi dzīvot laivā. Autore uzaugusi buru laivā kopā ar māsu un vecākiem ziemas pavadot Bahamu salās, bet vasaras pie Virdžīnijas vai Floridas krastiem. Tāda dzīve nav tikai skaisti saulrieti, ruma dzeršana un snorkelēšana un labi, ka autore nebaidās to atklāt.
Pilna atsauksme: http://gramatas.wordpress.com/2013/07...

Ideal for those who have ever wondered - how it is to live on a boat. I liked the first part about her childhood in Bahamas. Second and third part about growing up, going to college, drinking, owning a boat and everything in between was somewhat darker, but still interesting.
Profile Image for Matt Peters.
Author 9 books28 followers
October 19, 2012
This book was more about Melanie coming of age than her sailing voyages. Sailboats and the islands are just the setting for the story about a shy, awkward girl dealing with a pretty, popular sister and difficult father. Living on a boat certainly didn't make things any easier or better.

Read more like a true account rather than the typical romanticized version of the sailing lifestyle you usually get. It was a darker story than I expected, but that grit made the book much more engaging and enjoyable. She doesn't hold anything back or pull any punches.

Loved it.
Profile Image for Summer Wilms.
1 review
September 10, 2014
I met the author on several occasions when I was 13 and a boat kid myself. Because of that, I found that the book was an interesting mix of nostalgia and what I can only think of as neighborly vouyerism; Seeing what went on below the decks of a fellow family of boaters. So it was a bit different for me in that respect.

It would be an excellent read for any young adult, coming of age in an unconventional environment or for any family considering a live-aboard lifestyle.

Melanie's writing is heartfelt and personal and easy to read.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,202 reviews26 followers
December 9, 2013
I received this book on netgalley.

I love travel books, as someone who loves to travel this caught my eye. I often joke if I ever hit the lottery I'm either going to buy a boat and take off or buy a one way ticket to Belize.

This book was a great story, it was very much coming of age, more so than travel. Either way it filled my passion for wanderlust & also gave me an understanding of what "travel full time" really means.

If you are like me this is the perfect travel read. It was especially wonderful this weekend since I was iced into my house!
Profile Image for Dana.
2,413 reviews
May 23, 2014
The author tells her story of living on a boat with her parents and sister sailing around the Bahamas beginning when she was 5 and her sister was 3. She tells about her life as a child, living on the boat, homeschooling, sailing to different places meeting the same people each year and seeing other children occasionally. Then she tells about her teen years and her young adult years when she moves out from her parents and buys her own boat. The story is well written and rather interesting. I received this book free to review from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Katarina.
865 reviews22 followers
January 6, 2014
This was a very interesting read for me. It gave me a real look at the kind of life I have no idea about: growing up on a boat, living on a boat year round for 20some years.

The book was easy to read, the writing flowed well, and Melanie gave me a true and authentic look at her life. There wasn't any sugar coating. Good and bad memories were presented to show the full package.

Super interesting read.
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